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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Hjelle Calls for Free Lunch

This week's Maplewood Review includes an article with the headline "Council member calls for maintaining police and firefighter levels."

On September 14th, the city council debated the maximum property tax levy for 2010. One option was a zero levy increase. Each department laid out the implications of that budget scenario, given the loss of more than half a million dollars in Market Value Homestead Credit from the state. For the police department, which uses a very large percentage of our property taxes and spends most of their budget on payroll, the impact included not hiring two new officers to fill vacancies created by recent retirements.

Even knowing the impact that a zero levy increase would have, Erik Hjelle and Diana Longrie proposed going even further in the revenue cuts, by offering a motion to cut more than $1/2 million more from the property tax levy. Had their motion passed, the city would need to consider a lot more than just leaving two officer positions vacant in order to balance the budget.

Two weeks after voting with Mayor Longrie against the funding needed to maintain Maplewood police and fire (and other property-tax-funded city services -- if you like having your streets plowed in the winter, for example), Erik brought forward his motion "that the city council support not cutting any police officer or fire staffing levels in the 2010 budget."

This was my response to his original motion:

In the end, we agreed on language to say that it is a priority of the council not to make cuts to police and fire, something that all five of us agreed on. It remains to be seen whether the whole council will step forward and take responsibility for paying for it as well when the final levy decision comes before us. In the meantime, Councilmember Hjelle and Mayor Longrie seem determined to have their cake and eat it too, taking symbolic votes in support of public safety while voting against the taxes that pay for them.

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Thanks, John!

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